David Humphreys' shock move is big risk, warns Willie Anderson
Irish rugby icon Willie Anderson has expressed his amazement at Ulster supremo David Humphreys' decision to leave Ulster for English Aviva Premiership club, Gloucester.
The man who brought Humphreys to Dungannon and together winning the All-Ireland League title in 2001, said he is still coming to terms with the totally unexpected news.
"Surprised, really surprised," the 59-year-old former Ulster and Ireland lock said. "The whole Ulster thing – the new stadium, the players he signed – all seemed to have been built up around him so I don't think anybody saw this coming. I certainly didn't."
But he warned that Humphreys may find it difficult to adapt in England. "It's going to be very interesting to see how this pans out because David is not a coach and never has been," said Anderson.
Anderson’s own CV includes spells in charge of London Irish and as assistant to former Ulster coach, Matt Williams, with Leinster and then Scotland.
Assessing Humphreys' credentials, Anderson said: “I think his role as Ulster's Director of Rugby was one that people maybe used to wonder about, given that he never did any coaching.
“He always had a coach working under him rather that being in that role himself – Brian McLaughlin and now Mark Anscombe. Of course, it's coaches and players who take the flak if things aren't going well so depending on what his role at Gloucester is, he may find that different to what he has been used to here.
“To some extent it's a case of him going into the unknown to do something he hasn't done before, so I suppose we'll just have to see how he gets on.
“But the Premiership is a tough league so I'd imagine there's going to be a fair bit of pressure on him. He's the guy they've entrusted with getting them back up to where they want to be. They're spending big money so they'll expect to see results.
“If it's a matter of him recruiting others to do parts of the job for him, that won't be easy either. If you're bringing in coaching staff you need to know you can trust them.”
With Ulster failing to win silverware in Humphreys' reign despite having invested heavily in world-class players like Springboks pair Ruan Pienaar and Johann Muller, plus former All Black John Afoa with whom Humphreys will be teaming up at Kingsholm, some of the Ravenhill faithful had begun to ask questions as to where it was going wrong.
“It may be that he himself feels he has taken Ulster as far as he can,” Anderson suggested.
“The bottom line is that he's a professional and in professional sport, opportunities come along. When they do, then you have to make a decision. That's what he has done.
“But I think people here are going to be more concerned with what happens at Ulster than with what happens at Gloucester. There are's a big decision to be made here now.”